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O O O O that Shakespherian Rag

It's so elegant
So intelligent

(Shakesperian Rag - via The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot as hypertext)

That's just by way of saying that everyone is talking about The Mundane Manifesto, a statement about what SF (which I think the authors would expand into Science Fiction) should and should not be about.

Generally, the authors think SF should not be about things that modern science declares can't be or can't happen. Specifically:

  • No interstellar travel -- travel is limited to within the solar system and is difficult, time consuming and expensive
  • No aliens unless the connection is distant, difficult, tenuous and expensive -- and they have no interstellar travel either
  • No Martians, Venusians, etc.
  • No alternative universes or parallel worlds
  • No magic or supernatural elements
  • No time travel or teleportation

And they call for "the bonfire of unexamined and unjustified SF tropes":

  • Aliens: especially those aliens who act like feudal Japanese/American Indians/Tibetan Buddhists/Nazis or who look or behave like human beings except for the latex
  • Alien invasions
  • Alien Jesus/enlightened beings
  • Flying Saucers
  • Area 51
  • Any alien who is a vehicle for a human failing or humour
  • Aliens who speak English
  • Devices that can translate any language
  • Radio communication between star systems
  • Travelling between galaxies without relativity effects on a consistent scale
  • Slipping sideways into worlds other than this one where just one thing or all of history is different only the clothes look a bit better, the hero is more powerful, the drinks are more delicious and Hitler...

They call such things "wish fulfillment fantasies rather than serious speculation about a possible future."

A lot of people are really het up about this. I'm not, because (a) This was apparently written by a bunch of Clarion East students; (b) Its earnest idealism ("this dream of abundance can encourage a wasteful attitude to the abundance that is here on Earth") can best be described as "kawaii!"; (c) once the idealism stops being cute, the tongue-in-cheek humor takes over ("The Mundanes promise...To burn this manifesto as soon as it gets boring").

But I do think wish-fulfillment is an important and good reason to write and enjoy science fiction. And I do think that tropes such as interstellar trade and politics can stir up interesting and useful ideas about how human beings interact (now and in the possible future). Writing strictly within the Mundane SF guidelines surely can also satisfy wish-fulfillment and relaxation urges, and can also stir up ideas about how humans will take care of ourselves and our planet. But so can mainstream fiction, or Baywatch, if you approach it with that frame of mind.

The "interstellar trade and politics" trope, aka "aliens who act like feudal Japanese/American Indians/Tibetan Buddhists/Nazis or who look or behave like human beings except for the latex" can be especially useful, I think, because of all the biases humans have toward others of our own kind. Most people can't read a book about Japanese, Nazis, and what have you without their biases about what they already believe about the subject (and/or their biases about what they think the author believes) getting in the way. Probably more people can read a book about hani and kif and knnn, which may or may not have things in common with human cultures, without their biases about human cultures getting in the act (at least, not in the same way as if the story were about human cultures). And they just might come out of that with some new ideas about what sorts of interactions work best for humans too.

The manifesto does irritate me in a few ways, though.

For example, it irritates me insofar as it seems like yet another attempt to segregate "stuff you can be proud of reading" from "trash." SF (science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction) as a genre has pretty irretrievably been relegated to "trash" by people who write and read mainstream and literary fiction. Is dividing SF into more subtypes really a good way to attempt to dig some SF out of the trash by burying other SF deeper in the trash? I vaguely suspect the writers of the manifesto of having this agenda.

It also irritates me insofar as it seems to be sassing at a great deal of its SF history and ancestry, to which it owes everything...blah blah blah Ginger, gratuitous kowtowing to Asimov, etc.

Finally, it irritates me because of the use of the term SF. To my mind, "Speculative Fiction" needn't be scientific in focus and needn't avoid magic, fantasy, magical realism, and what not. It's fiction that says "What if?" and if unrealistic scenarios can be imagined, they can also be written about and enjoyed. If you are talking about "Science Fiction," and meaning "fiction that's plausible by early 21st century science standards," then say "Science Fiction," already.


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 22nd, 2005 09:00 pm (UTC)
Ken MacLeod and Charles Stross (scroll down) have taken shots at this dumb idea.
Jun. 23rd, 2005 06:14 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'd seen Charlie's but not Ken's.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 09:31 pm (UTC)
Um... this is intended as parody, isn't it? Because it's either parody and brilliant (on the level of that recent article about a daycare being sued by fundies for making the children draw and color rainbows) or it's Just Plain Dumb.
Jun. 23rd, 2005 06:12 am (UTC)
I don't think it's parody, although it has some deliberately self-parodying elements.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 09:33 pm (UTC)
Perhaps this is why I very often hear "SciFi/Fantasy" pronounced as if it were a compound word to start with?

Also I wonder if "alternate history" type of speculative fiction is considered SF by these. Some SF stories have an alternate past as well as a speculative future. Since they provably did not actually happen that way, I guess that makes them Fantasy as well.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
I thought it was good as an artistic manifesto, in creating a set of constraints that would encourage the creation of work on a 'different branch of the tree'.

Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:30 am (UTC)
I can see it being a useful exercise in that way, so long as that kind of sf isn't presented as the only possible model.

I do prefer my sf a bit rooted in reality, even if that reality has to be more than a little bent to make it work (like imagining what would happen if those particles that appear out of nothing could actually stick around, or how you'd make them). But the only restriction I place there is that I tend to prefer science fiction to fantasy.
Jun. 22nd, 2005 09:59 pm (UTC)
Is it not more like 'Dogma' or 'The New Puritans'? Let's draw up a list of restraints and see if the constraint is inspiring.
Jun. 23rd, 2005 04:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's what it looks like to me. To which I say, rock on! Try it & see if you come up with anything good.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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